On the heels of his first NBA season, Yogi Ferrell is out to prove that he’s much more than a flash in the pan.
Ferrell immediately took the league by storm upon signing a 10-day deal with the Mavericks in January, when in a week he went from unemployed and considering offers in Europe to tying the rookie record for most 3s made in a game.
The point guard struck out with the Brooklyn Nets, which seems almost absurd now in retrospect. In his first four games in Dallas, he averaged 17.8 points and 5.0 assists, eventually taking home February’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month Award. He ended the season with averages of 11.3 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.1 steals in 36 games for Dallas, including 29 starts. Among rookies, only Buddy Hield made more 3s per game, and only four first-year players shot it better from deep.
“There were a lot of ups and downs in my first professional season, but I’m just proud of the way I stuck with it and made the most of my opportunity,” Ferrell said last week. “But now it’s just being able to build off that opportunity into something that can be a great success story for myself.”
Indeed, there were low moments. The Nets cut Ferrell after just 10 games and he was relegated to the D-League, where he averaged 18.7 points and 5.8 assists in 18 appearances for the Long Island Nets. But NBA interest simply didn’t come. Ferrell admitted his agent was fielding offers from Europe, and had the Mavs called only a couple days later, they’d have needed to dial long-distance, because the 6-foot floor general was about to strike a deal to play in Russia.
Then, on the same night he was recognized as Rookie of the Month, his 14-game run as a starter came to an end. After setting the Indiana University record for games started, that understandably could have come as a shock to Ferrell. “No good deed goes unpunished,” head coach Rick Carlisle joked at the time.
Carlisle has very high standards when it comes to point guard play. It might not always appear this way given how simple it looks at times, but the Mavs run one of the most sophisticated offenses in the NBA. Ferrell arrived to the team when it was at a crossroads: Already on the outside of the playoff race but looking to claw back into it, the club was looking for a spark plug anywhere they could find one, and Ferrell became that guy. He played well enough to allow the Mavericks to feel more comfortable parting ways with veteran Deron Williams, who eventually signed with the Cavaliers, which speaks volumes about the immediate impact the rookie made.
But as the season wore on and the Mavs’ playoff hopes faded Carlisle didn’t lower his expectations, even for the younger players. That holds especially true for Ferrell. Carlisle never committed to calling Ferrell a starter, and at this point it’s not clear who will open the season running point. The coach did, however, give his young point guard some homework this summer.
“The biggest thing he said, which happened right after the season ended, is vision on the court,” Ferrell said. “Being able to read all different kinds of reads in the pick-and-roll. That’s the biggest thing. He knows I can shoot it and I can score, but he just said that I’ve got to focus on my vision. That comes with experience, time, and just being in and working on it in a live setting in practice.”
Fortunately for Ferrell, there have been plenty of chances to work with teammates in live settings. Several Mavs have lived in the gym since the season ended, an effort led by Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews, who sometimes arrive as early as 6 a.m. and who I’ve seen in the facility as late as 7 p.m. That’s a slight change of pace for the Mavericks, who in recent seasons have only had a handful of players under contract for the following season. This summer, however, the only player whose future isn’t under the Mavs’ control — either with a guaranteed season or a team option — is Nerlens Noel, who’s entering the summer as a restricted free agent. More players under contract means more guys to work out with, which can only help Ferrell.
Additionally, he might get live-game experience at the Las Vegas Summer League. Nothing is official until the roster is actually released, but the Mavs front office has suggested that any or all of the first- and second-year players from last year’s roster could make appearances in the desert next month: Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith, A.J. Hammons, Nicolas Brussino, and Jarrod Uthoff might all play. Ferrell averaged 8.8 points and 1.8 assists for the Nets in Vegas last summer, so perhaps he can improve upon those numbers if he receives another opportunity to play there with the Mavericks.
Among the other Mavericks in Vegas, however, might be a highly touted player at Ferrell’s position. Dallas holds the ninth pick in the June 22 NBA Draft, and there’s a very, very good chance that the club’s selection will play for the Las Vegas team as well. Many mock drafts have the Mavs drafting a point guard, and Dirk Nowitzki himself also said last week that Dallas is probably leaning that direction. That could mean Ferrell will have to compete with another young player for minutes. Does that bother him?
“I have no thoughts,” Ferrell said. “What I’ve learned from the NBA is that things can change from one hour to the next, and people can have different opinions about stuff. But I know whoever we bring in is gonna be someone that’s a winner and wants to compete.”
If the Mavs do go point guard, that player better be ready to battle for every second of playing time. Ferrell had to fight his way into the league as an undrafted free agent, and he had to fight his way back after getting cut. He had to work hard to impress his coach, and then had to work even harder to gain his trust after temporarily being removed from the starting lineup. Now, he might have to beat out a top-10 pick for playing time.
But if that’s the case, he’ll be ready to fight. He doesn’t know any other way.
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